A popular misconception about Tequila is that it contains a worm in the bottom of the bottle. In reality, it is not Tequila that contains a worm, but its southern cousin, Mezcal.
Though Mezcal includes all spirits made from agave (including Tequila), recently it has come to describe the booze from the Oaxaca region of Mexico that is made from the heart (known as the piña) of the maguey. Tequila is made from the blue agave only in the area of Tequila, Mexico.
Bottles of Mezcal containing the “worm” (con gusano) first appeared in the 1940’s when Jacobo Lozano Paez had a bit of marketing genius. He discovered that when the moth larva of the Hypopta Agavis, a common moth that feeds on the agave plant, were present, it gave the Mezcal its distinctive flavor. He decided to add the worm to the bottle to both ensure the correct flavor and proof of his liquor, but mainly as a marketing ploy. Included with the bottle was a small sack of salt, seasoned with the same larva.
Paez’s plan was so successful that people began to equate all liquors from Mexico with the worm, including Tequila, which remains to this day. The misconception has become a problem for many Tequila and higher end Mezcal distillers because the presence of the larva on agave plants indicates an infestation, and is usually only included in cheaper Mezcals, bringing down the image of Mexican liquors as a whole.
Ban the Worm?
More recently, there has been some campaigning to ban the worm completely due to the possibility that it may diminish the alcohol by releasing fat into the liquor. Oaxaca distillers have disregarded this worry, saying that since they pickle the worm prior to adding it, it should have no effect on the spirit at all.